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Juneau, Alaska is continuing with its efforts to limit the number of cruise passengers as the capital city of Alaska prepares for what many residents see as an onslaught of passengers. With the first cruise ship due to arrive next week, Juneau is implementing its first daily cap for on the number of cruise ships as part of a 2023 agreement with the industry while talks continue for more extensive restrictions. Starting this season the number of cruise ships is capped at five, but it does not address the size of the ship or the number of people aboard.

Alaska Public Media is quoting the City Tourism Manager Alix Pierce as telling the assembly in a meeting this week, “We do not have a preliminary agreement on an MOA (memorandum of agreement) with specific numbers yet, but we have agreed to the concept of a daily limit MOA, which is an important step in the right direction.”

Juneau residents have been calling for restrictions as the Alaska cruise market has boomed in the past few years. Alaska was one of the first markets to reopen after the pandemic. While tourism is recognized as a vital part of the local economy, the city this year is projecting that 1.65 million passengers will come to Juneau in 2024, up from approximately 1.64 million last year. By comparison, it was approximately 1.15 million in 2022 and 1.3 million in 2019. 

Many believe the city’s official estimate for 2024 is low. They note that cruise lines are sending larger ships and have extended the length of the cruise season. Norwegian Cruise Line arrives on April 9 with its Norwegian Bliss this year almost a month ahead of the competitors and runs a month later with the last call of the season scheduled for October 24. By early May, other leading brands including Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International will also have started cruises. In total, Juneau is booked for 485 cruise ship calls in 2024.

The cruise industry and Alaska have struggled with the state’s efforts at a head tax strongly opposed by the cruise lines that were successful in getting it reduced. Juneau voters in 1999 passed a proposition that assigned a tax of $5 per cruise ship passenger which continues in addition to a $3 Juneau Port Development Fee and the $5 State of Alaska Commercial Passenger Vessel Fee. Juneau estimates revenue in fiscal year 2025 to be roughly $21.5 million from cruise passengers with the money used for everything from shore power to enhancements of transit and city parks.

Residents have been calling for greater efforts to cap the number of passengers. A 2021 initiative in Juneau failed to make it to the citizen’s ballot while last year city officials in neighboring Sitka, Alaska, another popular cruise port, declined an effort to include a proposed cap for passengers on the city’s ballot.

Juneau and the trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) agreed in 2023 to voluntarily limit ships to no more than five starting this year. They said the number was based on recommendations established by a task force in 2020, but residents said it needed to be lowered to three or four ships a day. 

The elected city represents said the threshold of five large ships per day is intended to provide a positive experience for the benefit of both residents and visitors while providing a reliable market for the many local businesses that rely on the visitor industry, especially cruise.